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UPDATE: Florida Wildlife Commissioners Approve New Bear Plan That Includes Hunting

Wildlife authorities check a dead bear during Florida's bear hunt. Photo by Amy Green
Wildlife authorities check a dead bear during Florida's bear hunt. Photo by Amy Green

Florida wildlife commissioners approved a new bear plan Wednesday that includes regulated hunting as one way to manage the state’s growing bear population. 

That’s despite strong opposition among conservationists, who remain galvanized after a controversial hunt four years ago. 

The new plan lays out multiple ways to manage population growth as bears continue to venture into neighborhoods. The options include fertility control and regulated hunting. 

The commissioners considered hours of public testimony from conservationists opposed to a hunt and hunters who support one. Samantha Gentrup, a school teacher, drove from Venice to Panama City to ask that regulated hunting be removed from the plan.   

“I’m here to remind you of the overwhelming majority of phone calls, emails and letters sent to you opposing a hunt. When totaling the signatures on petitions, the populations of the cities and counties that have signed and passed ordinances against bear hunting, millions of your stakeholders have spoken out against bear hunting in Florida.” 

Regulated hunting is the most common way in North America to manage bear numbers. Central Florida is home to the state’s largest population. 

The animal was removed from the state’s threatened list in 2012. 

Florida’s bear population is growing, and wildlife managers in the future will have to take action to manage it, but that time is not now, said Eric Sutton, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  

“Perhaps there are ways to implement some form of hunting in the future that could be met with more acceptance than what we’ve experienced in the past, and this may be more likely if we’re able to increase the understanding of the need for population control," he said. "I don’t think we’re there yet.” 

Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.